CIRI honors Shareholder and Elder Shareholder of the Year, bestows special Legacy Award

For 25 years, CIRI has recognized its most committed and community-minded shareholders with the CIRI Shareholder of the Year Award. The awards, given to shareholders who display an exemplary dedication to Alaska Native culture, heritage and communities, acknowledge each recipient’s accomplishments and contributions to Alaska Native people. In addition, a special award was presented this year to honor the accomplishments of a shareholder who has passed on.

Aaron Leggett named CIRI Shareholder of the Year

Aaron Leggett. Photo by Chris Arend.
Aaron Leggett. Photo by Chris Arend.

This year, CIRI president and CEO Sophie Minich presented the award to its youngest recipient ever, 33-year-old CIRI shareholder Aaron Leggett, for his role in preserving and perpetuating Alaska Native culture and language. Leggett accepted the award at the Fall Friendship Potlatch in Anchorage on Oct. 19.

“It’s clear that, for Aaron, it’s not enough to be passionate about his culture and language – he’s driven to educate others and to spark that passion in them, too,” says Sophie Minich, CIRI president and CEO. “He was chosen as this year’s Shareholder of the Year because his efforts to raise awareness about Dena’ina culture don’t stop with his work at the museum or his scholarly writing. For Aaron, his work truly is a way of life.”

Leggett has served as the Tribal Council Treasurer for the Native Village of Eklutna and has worked on the Anchorage Historic Preservation Commission and as the Dena’ina cultural historian for the Alaska Native Heritage Center. But he is perhaps best known for his efforts in promoting and preserving the Dena’ina language and culture.

As the Special Exhibits Curator at the Anchorage Museum, Leggett was instrumental in bringing the first exhibition of the Dena’ina Athabascan people, “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living,” to a major museum. (To view a video of the exhibition, visit He contributed to and helped edit the exhibition catalog, in addition to having co-authored numerous scholarly papers. An influential voice in the process of selecting the name of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Leggett has dedicated his life to changing the historical narrative of the Cook Inlet area to include and emphasize the legacy of the Dena’ina Athabascan people.

This year, in recognition of his efforts, Leggett also received the 2014 Alaska Federation of Natives President’s Culture Bearer Award and a Governor’s Award for the Humanities for enriching the civic, intellectual and cultural lives of Alaskans through the wisdom and techniques of the humanities.

Elder Shareholder of the Year Award honors Maxim (Max) Dolchok

[lightbox link=”” thumb=”×300.jpg” width=”199″ align=”left” title=”Max Dolchok” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”Maxim Dolchok”]The Elder Shareholder of the Year Award went to CIRI shareholder Maxim “Max” Dolchok, of Anchorage, for his commitment to ending the cycle of domestic violence and abuse. This award was presented at the Fall Friendship Potlatch in Anchorage.

An Elder from the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the recently retired Dolchok actively advocated for men’s healing and family wellness within the context of Alaska Native traditions. He has dedicated many volunteer hours toward eradicating domestic violence and abuse, and joined the original steering committee for Southcentral Foundation’s Family Wellness Warriors Initiative more than a decade ago; until his retirement, he served as the committee chair.

Dolchok believes that culture plays a significant role in helping men become role models, and through his own actions and words, he leads the way for other Alaska Native men to demonstrate healthy behavior to their own children. A former executive director of Cook Inlet Native Association, Dolchok dedicates his time to restoring Alaska Native families and preserving Alaska Native culture.

“Domestic violence is, unfortunately, an issue that affects a number of Alaska Native families – an issue that often goes unspoken,” says Minich. “Max Dolchok’s work raising awareness and educating others about this issue is crucial to ending domestic violence.”

Special Legacy Award posthumously bestowed upon ANCSA pioneer Donald Wright

[lightbox link=”” thumb=”×223.jpg” width=”300″ align=”left” title=”CIRI Legacy Award recipient Donald Wright, pictured with his daughter, great grandson and granddaughter at the 40th anniversary celebration of ANCSA in 2011.” frame=”true” icon=”image” caption=”CIRI Legacy Award recipient Donald Wright, pictured with his daughter, great grandson and granddaughter at the 40th anniversary celebration of ANCSA in 2011.”]This year, CIRI posthumously honored shareholder Donald Wright with a special Legacy Award in recognition of his efforts to significantly improve the livelihood of Alaska Native people. The award was presented to Wright’s family at the Fall Friendship Potlatch in Kenai on Oct. 11. Wright passed away at his daughter’s home in Kenai on July 5 this year at the age of 84.

The Legacy Award was given in honor of Wright’s tireless efforts to settle Alaska Native land claims and for the central role he played in negotiating the best and the fairest settlement possible for Alaska Native people under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). Wright also served as president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and was present when Alaska Native leaders received a phone call via speakerphone from President Richard Nixon, announcing that he had signed the legislation for ANCSA.

Wright also served as president of Cook Inlet Native Association and was instrumental in securing funding for training and clean-up activities that took place at the former Wildwood site, now owned by Kenai Natives Association, Inc. He was also instrumental in bringing the Indian Action Program, an outreach medical program, to Alaska Native children, pre-ANCSA.

Mr. Wright’s ability to form relationships, unite Native and non-Native leaders and otherwise bridge cultural gaps was essential to producing positive change for Alaska. He spent his life strengthening the prosperity, health and culture of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Alaska Native people.

In a Raven’s Circle article, former CIRI Director and current chair of Cook Inlet Tribal Council Clare Swan recalled, “Don was a visionary. He could see what was possible and knew what it took to make that happen. His testimony to Congress during the land claims legislation was incredible. It was always about what was best for the people. He was rather prophetic.”